Clicking around on the 'Book last night, I found that a handful of my fellow Nashvillians had shared a link to this post by The Atlantic Cities' Richard Florida. Many of the Facebookers in question included commentary like, "Nashville continues to win EVERYTHING" and so on. But while recent features from national pubs like Rolling Stone and GQ feature curated lists and opinion and color pieces that put Nashville at the top of the country's music scenes, Florida's analysis is just that — analysis. Scientific analysis by Florida (and his colleague Charlotta Mellander), based on data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis and more.
And what does it say? It says that our "concentration of music, musicians, and recording and music publishing businesses is nothing short of astounding." Florida goes on to note that "it is important to point out that we are measuring the concentration of musicians and music-related businesses, not the vibrancy or impact or quality of artists to emerge from a regional scene."
Florida, a recognized expert (maybe the expert) in this field, has chimed in on this point before. Last year, he wrote in The Atlantic that Nashville is off the charts in terms of music industry saturation. And in 2009, he wrote a piece called "The Nashville Effect," which made the argument that Jack White's move to Nashville was "part of a broader trend" and that "music, like many other industries, is actually becoming more concentrated and clustered over time."
Nashville is something of an anomaly in this regard, and Florida clearly recognizes that. Here's the most interesting bit, as far as Music City is concerned:
But size is not everything, as Nashville's dominance and the performance of other smaller metros show. Smaller places can develop significant clusters of musicians and the music industry. The key here, as it is in so many other fields, is the clustering of talent, as talented musicians are drawn to and cluster around other talented musicians. Doing so, they generate a human capital externality of a musical kind — competing against each other for new sounds and audiences, combining and recombining with each other into new bands — a Darwinian process out of which successful acts rise to the top and achieve broad success.
Maybe "human capital externality" seems like a rather dispassionate term when it comes to creativity and art and artistic collaboration. But that's just the mucky stuff you're going to come upon when you're quantifying the business of music.
As Florida points out, his colleague Mellander concocted what they're calling a "Metro Music Index" — that is, a scale up to 1.00 measuring just how saturated a particular American city is with musicians and music-related businesses. "Nashville-Davidson — Murfreesboro — Franklin, TN" scored the only 1.00, with the greater NYC, greater Los Angeles and greater San Francisco areas trailing closely behind. Here's a screen grab of the Top 25 cities, from highest MMI to lowest:
So what do you think of this analysis? Me, I'm all for any scientific data that backs up my longstanding opinion that Nashville is a rich musical city. But even though Florida's whole "clustering" point does suggest that a city with a MMI as high as Nashville's is going to be more prone to creating interesting, diverse and even challenging music, it's all just a bit robotic, isn't it? I suppose it's a good problem to have, not knowing whether we'd rather be embraced by the taste-making arms of Rolling Stone or the dispassionate robot claws of The Atlantic.
That said, either way, the outcome's the same: Nashville is No. 1. Music City indeed.